Despite the fact that we had snow (!!!) this weekend, we are approaching the holiday that for the Celts marked the beginning of summer, as their seasons centered on the solstices and equinoxes, instead of beginning with them. For those unfamiliar with Neo-Pagan holidays, May 1 is called Beltane. Traditionally, it is the celebration of the union of Goddess and God. This symbolism obviously comes from the natural and agricultural cycle, as this is the time of year when animals find their mates and the earth becomes a glorious montage of spring colors. Earth-based worship groups often celebrate this with a little healthy hedonism. (For that matter, non-Earth-based, non-worship groups do too, as anyone knows who has lived in Indianapolis and watched the crazy celebrations surrounding the Indy 500. It's the closest Indy gets to Carnival or Mardi Gras. :) )
A few years ago, under my Pagan pen name, I wrote an essay about the symbolism and deeper meaning of the holiday, that I thought I would share here in honor of the holiday, and in hopes that the weather will reflect the time of year more accurately, and soon! :)
The meaning and mysteries of Beltane
aka Beltane Babblings :)
The mysteries of Beltane are cloaked in sexual imagery because that's the closest human analogy to the relationship between the Divine and humanity. Even Christianity resorts to this in calling Christ the Bridegroom of the Church. And because Wicca is a mystery religion, a spirituality filled with things that can only be perceived, experienced, 'grokked', rather than truly explained, Wiccan symbology is sometimes mistaken for the mystery itself. So, at the risk of trying to put the wordless into words, here are my random thoughts on the mysteries of Beltane.
Beltane is about desire. But then again, all magic is about desire, and all religion is about desire, and even the Wiccan Rede, "An it harm none, do as thou wilt," is about desire. Knowing your true will is harder than it sounds. It's a congruence of deep heart-longing and intellectual choice. It involves acknowledging the need for wisdom, AND knowing yourself, AND being honest enough with yourself to allow yourself to want, to accept your heart's deep longing. Not to merely settle for what you 'ought to' do, or what you're 'supposed to' do, but to know what, deep down inyour soul, delights you. Richard Boles, in discussing a sense of mission in an essay in the book, What Color Is Your Parachute?, talks about a vision of our sense of mission in life as a moment in time where "as quickly as God said 'I want', my heart cried 'Oh, *yes*'." Beltane is about finding where your heart cries "oh, yes", and moving to find that.
Beltane is also about being naked. Not necessarily nakedness of the body, but nakedness of the soul, of removing the veils we put up between the world and our true self: even of removing the veils we put up to hide our true desires from ourselves. It is of allowing ourselves to be seen, by the gods, by each other, by ourselves. Because there is no way to *know* the heart's desires if you don't look at yourself honestly, nakedly, and see all of what is there, the wrinkles of soul as well as body, the parts that could use toning. And there's no way to know the heart's desires if you are unable or unwilling to celebrate the *beauties* you see there as well, beauty of body, beauty of soul. Beltane is an invitation to see ourselves and each other through the mirrors of the Gods, through the mirrors of love, rather than through the filters our society tries to brainwash us into believing - that there are 'ought to's' and 'should's' and standards you have to meet before you are beautiful. Beltane is an acknowledgment that sheerly by existing you have inherent beauty, the beauty of the Maiden and the Lover in their passion for each other. Because since we know that the Gods are within us as well as without, Their passion for each other, Their beauty, must be ours as well.
Beltane is a time to accept our naked selves, accept each other, and celebrate our beauty in mind, spirit, heart, and body all, because like the four elements, all are needed. We don't ignore our bodies. We don't supress our desires. We accept and rejoice in ourselves as interconnected parts of the whole, balanced, not hoping for a far-off solely spiritual reward but recognizing that we can make the here-and-now its own kind of reward by taking joy in every moment, and in all parts of ourselves.
Finally, Beltane is about finding that kind of heart-delight in the Gods as well as in our own desires. It is about finding that joy in the Mother, our Earth, in the awakening of nature, the greening of trees, the feel of the Spring breezes, the young Sun just testing his strength, the return of the birds, of flowers spilling raucously across fields that a month ago were brown and barren. It is about remembering the mystery of rebirth, the promise that nothing ends that is not again reborn - and what better way to celebrate thepromise than by having a party out somewhere where we are surrounded on all sides by proof of this rebirth? If a Beltane celebration is an orgy of any kind, it's an orgy of the senses, of seeing the world around us with full awareness, not simply passing through in a daze of schedules and worries. It is of being awake in nature, using smell and taste and feel and sound and sight to renew our awareness of the connection between ourselves and all others. It is of recognizing Divinity in ourselves, and each other - of truly looking at one another and saying, "Thou art God/dess", not in the sense of being perfected or somehow exalted, but in the simple recognition that by simply existing we partake in creating our own world, our own lives, through our beliefs and actions and hopes and dreams, and that that act of creation is a sharing in the Divine powers of creation. The Goddess recreates the world daily - through us. So Beltane is a celebration of our power to create, in any and all fashions, and through that ability to create, a sharing in our own God and Goddesshood.
I hope this makes it clearer that Beltane is not 'merely' a celebration of 'an orgy in the woods'; and if your choice for Beltane -is- an orgy in the woods, that is part and parcel of a much deeper mystery. As humans, perhaps our strongest creative drive, the drive that most echoes our own divinity, is the drive to reproduce. And as humans who interact with other humans, perhaps the time we are the most ourselves, the most in touch with our true desires, and the most accepting of both another person and who we ourselves are, is in the arms of a lover. But those are not the only ways we can show creativity, be vulnerable, be honest, and connect with each other and the Ground of Being: those are simply some of the most obvious ways. Part of what the Wiccan mysteries involve is sanctifying everyday activities such as lovemaking, finding the holy in everything. And part of the Wiccan mysteries is finding those mysteries in actions less obvious. And neither is more or less a mystery than the other, and neither is more or less holy than the other.
Where you find mystery, where you find magick, where you find delight is as individual as anything else in Wicca. An it harm none, do as thou wilt. May we all enjoy the mysteries of Beltane, and find the courage to honor the longings of our hearts.
Brightest Beltane blessings,
Beltane, 1997 CE
updated and edited April 2005